The high cost of physician burnout: Hospitals spend millions on recruitment and lost productivity

Clinician burnout can impact the quality of care patients receive, but it can also have a major impact on a hospital's bottom line.

If a physician quits due to burnout, he or she can cost a health system between $800,000 and $1.3 million in recruitment, productivity and training costs, depending on specialty, according to an article from Reuters. Colin West, M.D., of the Mayo Clinic, said that even for physicians who stay on staff, burnout can contribute to thousands of dollars in costs "just as a matter of inefficient functioning."  

Malpractice experts are also concerned, according to the article. CRICO, the malpractice carrier for the hospitals affiliated with Harvard, had to settle several cases of late simply because the doctors were too burnt out to fight. 

"Working with doctors every day, you see it," Paul Harkaway, chief accountable care officer for Saint Joseph Mercy Health System in Michigan, told the publication. "They are just beat down." 

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A number of factors contribute to clinician burnout, with administrative tasks chief among them. A recent American Medical Association study found that doctors spend two hours inputting data into electronic health records and documentation for every hour spent with patients. 

In addition to administrative tasks, a hectic work environment can worsen physician burnout. About 57% of doctors with burnout said they worked in a chaotic environment, according to a recent survey. 

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Hospitals are taking steps to address burnout, like putting more of a focus on wellness, hiring more staff and offering more flexible job benefits. But physicians say that hospitals and practices aren't doing enough to address the problem. Nearly three-quarters (74%) said they don't believe the facility they work for has done enough to take on burnout and stress. 

More than half of the healthcare workforce reports experiencing burnout, and its incidence has spiked 25% over the past four years. Doctors who are stressed and burnt out are more likely to make mistakes in patient care.